Leaving food (stamps) on the plate

Minnesota State Roundup

Published May 1, 2007  | May 2007 issue

Despite rising food insecurity, many hungry Minnesotans are missing the equivalent of a free meal. According to a February report by the Legal Services Advocacy Project, about 40 percent of individuals eligible for food stamps are not enrolled in the program. That's an estimated 200,000 people. The state's sign-up rate is among the lowest in the country. The report estimated that since 2000, about $840 million in federal aid has gone unused.

Though food stamp enrollment in the state has risen by 30 percent since 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which runs the program) estimates that need and eligibility rose by almost 60 percent over this period. A survey of food shelves by two Minnesota nonprofits found that visits rose 25 percent over the past two years.

Advocates for the poor use such statistics as evidence of the need to better utilize food stamps. But greater food shelf use might be a source of lower food-stamp participation: Both programs offer free food to needy people, but the food stamp program comes with a 22-page application and monthly reporting.

Ronald A. Wirtz